THE FIRST time he went to a Boy Scouts meeting, Wren wasn’t sure if he was going to be sick from nerves or pee himself from excitement. He fixed his hair a half-dozen times, checked that his chest looked flat a dozen more, and didn’t leave the bathroom until Chris was about five seconds from marching up the stairs and dragging him out.
“We’re going to be late!” Chris shouted.
Wren swore, started to run downstairs, and then had to bolt back up because he forgot to turn the lights off.
“You look fine, brother,” Chris said as Wren emerged in the living room. Both brothers rolled their eyes, looking startlingly like each other in that moment.
“Shut up,” Wren muttered, adjusting his hair again.
“Seriously, you look great,” Chris said. “No one is gonna know anything is wrong with you.”
Their parents shot Chris a look, and Wren did his best to look disappointed, rather than pissed off. He couldn’t risk making his brother mad, not now of all times.
“Not like anything is wrong with you physically. Mentally? Maybe. I think you’re off your damn rocker.”
Ah yes, the joys of having a younger brother.
Wren shook his head, ruining all the effort he had put into his hair, and shrugged on an unnecessarily thick jacket. His dad looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t, just stood up and hugged Wren tightly. It was like Wren was going to his first day at school, not his first Boy Scouts meeting. Then again, Wren was pretty sure he hadn’t felt this nervous for his first day at school.
“You look great, son,” Dad said. There wasn’t any hesitation in his voice when he said “son,” which filled Wren with confidence. His mother looked like she was about to cry, so Wren gave her an extralong hug.
“Now, come on,” Dad said. “We’re already late, but if we get lucky, there won’t be any accidents on the sixty.”
Wren’s confidence lasted until they drove up to the house where Troop 901 met. Chris hopped out of the car immediately, barely saying goodbye to their dad, then turned around and motioned for Wren to join him. Wren found himself frozen, nerves getting the better of him. There was a moment when the only noise was NPR playing softly on the radio. Smooth jazz. Dad always did like the sound of a saxophone.
“Do you not want to go?” he asked.
“No,” Wren immediately replied. “I want to do this. I just….” He looked down at his lap, his too-big hips covered by his too-big jacket. It would be hot inside, just like it was outside, even though it was almost eight o’clock. That was the issue with living in Arizona. Three months out of the year it was bearable. For the other nine, it was hell.
“Your brother said there was another… another boy like you in the troop. That he has been there for years,” Dad said.
“That’s not the point, Dad,” Wren said. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was starting to get a bit shaggy. He would have to convince his mom to bring him to get it cut soon. “They all know each other. I’m a stranger and I’m… different.”
His dad let out a heavy sigh and turned the car off. Outside, Chris was playing on his phone, seemingly ignoring them. He kept glancing at the car, as if they wouldn’t notice him if he kept his looks short enough. It was better than him being annoying, like he usually was, and bugging Wren to hurry up.
Then again, that might actually get him out of the car.
“You know, when I first moved off the res—”
Wren groaned. He couldn’t help himself. He’d heard this story a good hundred times. Dad was a big fan of it, and everyone tended to humor him. Even Mom, who was actually in it.
“No, listen, Da—Wren. I was the second person in our family who left and had no intention of coming back. Your grandfather’s father and uncles were all code-breakers, and they all came back. And your grandfather went out and got his degree and came back and told me and my siblings, every day, that the only thing out here were racist white men and racist brown men and racist yellow men.” His father frowned, realizing what he just said.
“Grandfather’s racist too,” Wren pointed out.
“True, but not my point.” Another sigh escaped Dad. “I left and didn’t know what I would encounter. And yes, there was a lot that I did not like. There were people who saw me and thought I was a savage, that I played dress-up in eagle feathers or painted my face red on weekends. There were also people who saw me and, yes, they saw my brown skin and my long hair and knew I was not like them. And they liked me all the same.”
“You’re talking about how you met Mom.” Wren shrugged. “I don’t think I’m going to meet any girls here,” he added. That got a laugh out of Dad.
“Very true. But you know what the point of the story is. Now go, meet new people, and cause chaos. Try to keep yourself from antagonizing your brother too much.”
Wren rolled his eyes even as he opened the car door and stood, stretching his legs and ignoring the look Chris was giving him.
“Remember, you can text me or your mom at anytime!”
“I know, Dad.” With that, Wren shut the car door and walked up to the steps to meet Boy Scout Troop 901. Chris was already there, knocking on the door and tapping his foot on the ground, impatient as Wren joined him.
“Chris!” someone shouted as the two of them were ushered inside by a woman with warm eyes. They were led into a large dining room with a cluster of boys standing around and eating snacks. “That your brother?”
The person talking was massive. Wren was certain he was a football or basketball player with those kinds of muscles. But he had a wide smile, white teeth contrasting his dark skin, and seemed to be welcoming rather than threatening.
Another boy, much shorter and with a mop of brown hair, poked him in the side. “Travis, give the guy a moment to breathe before throwing yourself at him.”
But it was too late. Soon Wren found himself under scrutiny from the others, introducing himself and immediately forgetting everyone else’s name except for a few. There was Kyle, who was the brunet who had told Travis off. William, Bradley, Harrison, Joshua—the names and faces blurred, and Wren doubted he’d remember a single one after that night. He tried to figure out which one was the other trans boy, but it was pointless and Wren quickly gave up. If the guy was here, he was too good at passing.
Unlike Wren, who still felt like stabbing something every time he opened his mouth and pulled his jacket closer around him whenever someone seemed to be looking at him too long.
The senior patrol leader was Percy, a thin-as-a-stick blond boy who looked like the model Scout: he didn’t have a single crease in his uniform and was a few inches away from a military buzz cut. Wren instantly disliked him.
Percy gave Chris a stink eye.
“You actually brought him,” Percy said in a neutral tone that made Wren certain there was more to his words than that.
“I told you, and you never said no.” Chris crossed his arms and glared.
Wren glanced away, wondering if it was rude to grab a paper plate and serve himself. If his brother was about to get into a fight, was it smarter to leave him be or should Wren stick around to back him up? Then again, Wren knew if he was about to get in a fight, Chris was just as likely to pull out his phone and start recording as he was to help.
Percy let out a sigh and adjusted his glasses. “True.” He focused on Wren, who straightened up and looked him right in the eyes. This wasn’t the first time Wren had been challenged by someone, and he wasn’t going to back down from some prissy white boy.
The moment came and then passed, Percy seemingly deciding it wasn’t worth arguing about. “There’s nothing in the rules against bringing siblings,” he said. With that, Percy walked off.
Surprised and a little confused, Wren blinked and looked at his brother.
“He’s always like that,” Chris huffed. “I’m gonna go talk to some of my friends. Go… I dunno. Talk to someone. Eat food.” The don’t bother me went unsaid as Chris walked over to where Kyle was throwing Goldfish at Travis’s open mouth. A few missed, but it seemed like this was a regular occurrence since everyone else was ignoring them. That and the fact that almost all of the snacks made their target.
Wren wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he did what he did best: grabbed food and sulked in the corner. It was hot with so many people in a single space, and the conversations all bled into one another. He was almost overwhelmed, but he just pulled his jacket tighter and glanced around, trying to see if anyone was staring. They had arrived late, but it didn’t seem like the meeting was going to start anytime soon. Even Percy was chatting to someone, a plastic cup in one hand and a small smile on his face now that he wasn’t interrogating anyone.
This was a mistake.
Wren didn’t know why he had agreed to this. He wasn’t that desperate for friends, and he wasn’t going to make any there anyway. The Scouts all knew one another, and he was the odd man out by far. This was just going to be awkward, and when he got home, he’d tell his dad it was pointless. Maybe if he was miserable enough, then he wouldn’t have to come back.
What did Boy Scouts even do? They went camping, right? Wren had never gone camping before, and it didn’t sound pleasant. He liked air-conditioning and sleeping in a real bed and free Wi-Fi. Besides, camping would mean sleeping in a tent with someone and going to the bathroom in the woods. With strangers. With people who… well, they probably knew he was trans. It wasn’t like Wren was passing at all.
Dad can’t be too far. He could come and pick me up….
Wren was wrenched out of his thoughts, blinked furiously, and turned to look at who was talking.
“I’m Felipe. You’re Chris’s brother, right?” Felipe’s black hair was short except for the top, where a tuft fell right above his eyes. He seemed to glow a little in the yellow light, brown skin adopting a golden gleam. But what really drew Wren was Felipe’s blue eyes. They reminded Wren of the summer sky, when there wasn’t a single cloud as far as one could see. “Nice to meet you.” Felipe extended a hand.
Wren hoped his wasn’t covered in sweat as he shook Felipe’s. “My name’s Wren. And yeah, I’m Chris’s brother.” He shifted back and forth, not 100 percent sure what happened next. Did they talk about guy stuff? Was Wren supposed to know the score of the last Cardinals game? Oh God, I hope he isn’t a sports fan.
“So why is Chris dragging you to our meetings?” Felipe asked, not looking nearly as awkward as Wren felt.
The truth was, Wren’s father was the one who had come up with the idea. He’d convinced Chris to see if Wren could join the Boy Scouts because Wren had almost no friends anymore. Wren’s initial depression after coming out had been a struggle, but the past few months were better. He hadn’t been for a while. But Wren got the feeling that if he told Felipe that, Felipe would run in the other direction. So Wren just shrugged.
“My dad thought it would get me out of the house. I think he just wants me to go see nature or something, and he knows Chris actually enjoys camping now so….”
Felipe laughed, half of the sound swallowed up by the people around him. Wren saw his shoulders shake, though, and couldn’t help but smile. He wasn’t sure what was so funny, but it was never a bad thing to make someone laugh.
“I hated camping at first. My abuela made me do it because she wanted me and Manny out of the house. Uh, Manny’s my brother. Older.”
“Your brother is a Boy Scout too?”
Felipe laughed again. “Well, he was. He’s in college now. Studying at U of A. We’re all very impressed by him.”
There was a surprising lack of sarcasm. Wren got along with his siblings, he guessed, but he doubted they ever talked about him to their friends. At least, not in a good way.
“You have other siblings too, right? Besides Chris?”
“Yeah, Blair and August. They’re my sisters.” Wren thought about how, only a year ago, it was the three sisters and Chris. Now it was him, Chris, and the two sisters. Wren knew his parents were trying their hardest, and all things considered, they were doing better, but that didn’t stop him from getting frustrated with them often. “Annoying as fuck, honestly,” Wren finished with a shrug.
“Ha, you sound like an older brother all right. Manny says my middle name is ‘Annoying as Fuck,’ but he’s just an idiot,” Felipe replied. “What do you do for fun? Play any video games?”
“Uh, not really. Does Mario Kart count?” Wren asked.
Felipe chuckled and shook his head. “Nah, not really. I mean, it’s a game, but I was thinking more like Skyrim or Witcher.” Upon seeing the blank look on Wren’s face, Felipe stared. “Really? Nothing? You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“They’re, uh, video games. Good ones.” Wren let out a nervous laugh as Felipe laughed more. If he was trying to make friends, he got the feeling he was doing pretty bad. “Sorry, I don’t really play video games. Obviously.”
“Nah, it’s cool. Your loss.” Felipe grinned. “Just means if we ever play together, I’ll kick your ass.”
Wren faked an offended look, gasping and putting a hand on his chest. “Excuse you. I’ll have you know that my free time is not filled with hours in front of a screen pretending to be a hero, shooting guns or something.”
“A hero with a sword, first of all. It’s cool,” Felipe corrected, though Wren couldn’t help but think that anyone that insistent about using a sword couldn’t be that cool, but… Felipe had a way of making dorky kind of cute.
That is not a thought I should have, Wren told himself.
“But okay, besides being an older brother, what else is there about you?” Felipe asked, and Wren shrugged. “Come on, you can’t tell me you sit in your room and stare at the wall all day.”
“You forget the three hours a day I’m required to brood. It’s all part of my membership to the Broody High School Senior Club,” Wren deadpanned.
“Broody High School Senior Club? Well, if you’re a part of that club, I’m afraid they’re going to ask for your card back. You seem far too happy and friendly to me,” Felipe replied with a wry smile.
Wren couldn’t help it; he laughed. Before he could come up with a suitable reply, though, Percy stood on a chair and blew a foghorn. It took three times before the room was quiet enough for him to successfully make himself heard.
“We are starting the meeting now! Please find a seat or patch of wall to lean against. No, Kyle, this is not the time to get into a wall squats competition with Travis.” Percy eyed the two in question.
Kyle shrugged and Travis didn’t look at all abashed, and no one else seemed at all surprised by the comment.
Wren scrambled to try to find a seat, but he ended up standing next to Felipe against the wall. There were a few others standing, so he didn’t feel too weird.
“All right. Now please stand while we recite the pledge….”
The rest of the meeting passed in a blur. They talked about the upcoming November camping trip, which would take place at some area called the Mogollon Rim. Wren hadn’t heard about it before, but apparently the entire troop would be going, though they’d be staying at different campsites. He already knew that Chris would ask permission on the ride home and that, no doubt, he’d start making plans with his friends to figure out who would stay in what tent.
Chris was not-so-quietly talking to someone, but he wasn’t the only one, so Percy didn’t call him out for it. Every once in a while, Felipe looked like he wanted to say something, but he hesitated and never did. Wren wondered if it was because he wouldn’t get the joke or if Felipe thought it wasn’t worth sharing.
All things considered, the meeting went much smoother than Wren had thought it would. He knew Boy Scouts were supposed to be model citizens or something, but all he could imagine was the time his economics class was divided by gender and the boys had failed to even come up with a name in an hour, while the girls had a fully functioning corporation complete with pensions and healthcare.
When it was all over, Wren couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. He had expected, well, something more. Maybe a little bit of arm wrestling or some other traditionally manly endeavor, like wood carving or comparing biceps. But instead it had been a lot of talking, which, while not bad in and of itself, was not something Wren felt comfortable doing quite yet. If his body didn’t give him away, his voice did.
Then again, it wasn’t like he would have felt any more at ease if guys were stripping their shirts off to compare pecs or abs, so maybe just talking was better.
“It was cool meeting you. Do you think you’re going to come to more?” Felipe asked as everyone was getting ready to go, the swell of conversation rising now that Percy wasn’t glaring at everyone who so much as yawned too loud.
Wren found himself without an answer. He didn’t feel like he should be at a Boy Scouts meeting. He had barely talked to anyone, and it wasn’t like Chris wanted him there in the first place.
On the other hand, since when had he given a damn what his little brother thought?
“Sure, if you guys let me show up again,” Wren replied.
Felipe grinned and laughed. “Nah, you’re cool. Chris complains about his sis—siblings all the time, but you seem all right.”
Wren pretended that Felipe’s almost-mistake had passed by without being noticed. It was the first time the entire meeting that anyone had made a direct comment about who Wren was, and even then, it seemed like a genuine mistake.
“Plus you’re actually my age. Chris is chill, but he’s so young.”
“How old are you? And how old do you think I am?” Wren asked, out of curiosity more than anything.
“I’m seventeen, and you’re at least that old or older,” Felipe replied without hesitation.
“Oh,” Wren said, caught off-balance for the second time by Felipe.
“Was I wrong?” Was it just Wren, or was Felipe teasing him? Was it wrong to look for ulterior motives in a near-stranger’s speech patterns? Probably. Wren figured he was just seeing things anyway.
“No.” Before Wren could say anything else, though, Chris appeared out of mass of Boy Scouts who were helping themselves to the last of the snacks. “Is Dad here?” Wren asked.
Chris nodded and glanced at Felipe, then did a double take. “Oh, hey, I didn’t think you were here. Have you been talking to him all night?”
“No, we just talked a little before the meeting started.” Felipe shrugged. “Is there any Fanta left?” The fact that he was so casual made Wren certain there was nothing there, just a nice person trying to make the new guy feel a little less out of place. It was appreciated, but it would be stupid for Wren to think that anything else was possible.
Besides, you’re at Boy Scouts. Everyone here is straight. Well, except for you.
“I dunno. Better hurry. I think Travis is getting bored.” Chris moved out of the way and motioned at the boy in question. Travis was currently stacking cans while Kyle gave him pointers.
“Cool. Nice meeting you, Wren. See you two around.” Without waiting for a reply, Felipe left.
Chris pulled out his phone and rolled his eyes. In his pocket, Wren felt his own phone vibrate. “Come on. Dad’s telling us to hurry. He wants to leave so we can be asleep by eleven,” Chris said.
Wren held back the urge to slug Chris in the shoulder as the two of them left, instead choosing to adjust his jacket and follow Chris out of the house. Once they got outside, they took a moment to find Dad’s car. Wren spotted it first and pointed to it with a grin. It had always been a bit of a stupid competition, trying to find Mom or Dad first in a crowd of people. That didn’t mean the two of them stopped taking it seriously, no matter how old they got.
“Nobody messed with you, right?” Chris asked as they walked over to the Prius.
“What?” Wren turned and squinted at Chris, trying to see if he was just pulling his leg and fully ready to check him into a nearby tree if that was the case.
“Just, like, they’re all cool, but they’re used to me calling you my sister and stuff. I just wanted to make sure nobody gave you any problems.”
It was such an honest, nice thing to say that Wren almost stepped into the gutter and twisted his ankle out of surprise. He recovered with a bit of flailing about, ignoring the utterly unimpressed look Chris gave him.
“I take it back. I care nothing for your well-being and hope that next time you fall in and die,” Chris said.
“Nope, too late!” Wren was going to lord this over him for as long as he could. “You actually do care about me. Ha! That means I win.”
“Everything!” Forget could, Wren was going to lord this over Chris until he died.